Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF) Society

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Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF) Society

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Dates of existence

1995-2019

History

The Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF) Society was a non-profit organization created in 1995 to organize an annual beer festival in Victoria, British Columbia. It dissolved itself in 2019, with responsibility for the GCBF festival passing to a new organization, the Victoria Beer Society.

Victoria's first beer festival took place in July 1992. Among the organizers and participants were members of the Victoria branch of the Campaign for Real Ale Society of BC (CAMRA BC).

The holding of local and national beer festivals had long been an integral function of CAMRA UK, the British organization on which CAMRA BC modelled itself. CAMRA UK held its first beer festival at Convent Garden in London in 1974. In 1977 it started the annual Great British Beer Festival, which has run continuously since, save 1984 (due to fire) and 2020 and 2021 (due to the Covid-19 pandemic).

In Victoria, CAMRA BC built on its experience of the 1992 Victoria beer festival and the following year launched the Victoria Mircobrewery Festival. The first was held on October 23, 1993 at the Victoria Conference Centre. It featured over 40 beers and ciders from 13 breweries and 2 cideries, most based in BC, with some guest breweries from Alberta, Ontario, Washington and Oregon. A second successful festival was held in 1994, and the following year CAMRA BC decided to create a dedicated body with ongoing responsibility for organizing and managing the festival. The name of the festival itself was changed to the Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF) and the GCBF Society was incorporated on March 7, 1995 by CAMRA BC members Dave Preston, Gerry Hieter, John Rowling and Phil Atkinson.

The constitution of the GBCF Society set out its purposes: to organize the annual beer festival at Victoria; raise public awareness of the variety of beers available; encourage public appreciation of ales and lagers brewed in accordance with CAMRA BC's standards; encourage the responsible enjoyment of beer as an alcoholic beverage; and to use surplus funds for charitable donations. GBFC's by-laws established the ongoing link of the festival to CAMRA BC: a majority of GCBF directors were to be members of the CAMRA Victoria branch and the President of CAMRA Victoria was ex officio a director of the GCBF Society.

For the first decade, the festival was held in the mid or late fall at the Victoria Conference Centre. BC craft beer was always the focus, but from its inception the festival also always included a smaller number of breweries from other provinces and from the USA. Over the years the GCBF grew in parallel with the growth in BC's craft beer industry. The number of participating breweries increased from 15 in 1993 to 34 by 2001. The 1995 festival first expanded the event to 2 days and in 1996 these were fixed to Friday / Saturday, a format subsequently retained. In order to accommodate both larger crowds and more breweries, the GCBF shifted to an outdoor event in 2003, and the festival has been held in early September at Victoria's Royal Athletic Park ever since. 40 breweries participated in the first outdoor festival in 2003; by 2008 the number was 52 and it reached 82 in 2014.

In 2018 Rowling and Hieter stepped down from the GCBF Board and in 2019 the Society dissolved itself, with the Victoria Beer Society taking over responsibility for managing the festival. After a hiatus in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the annual GCBF resumed in 2022, returning to its usual grounds at the Royal Athletic Park on an early September weekend.

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